St. Louis Post-Dispatch Film Review

Lorraine Kee Of The Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) November 9, 2001
Edition: FIVE STAR LIFT – Page E1

* Film Festival will screen TV anchor’s documentary on schizophrenic who killed his parents here in 1994.

Layers – that’s what drew veteran KSDK news anchor Art Holliday to making a film about the lives of brothers Matthew and Mark McBride. Matt, a paranoid schizophrenic, stabbed his parents to death with kitchen knives in their middle-class Glendale home on Sept. 19, 1994.

That event was horrific enough. But Holliday’s 90-minute “Before They Fall Off the Cliff: A Documentary About Schizophrenia” takes us through the thereafter. The documentary, which will make its debut Saturday at the St. Louis International Film Festival, focuses on the evolving relationship between the brothers and attempts to destigmatize mental illness. Mark McBride likens the aftermath to ripples that just won’t quit:

There is the mishandling of Matt’s case by the mental health care system until the fateful day. A physician, who released Matt from the hospital shortly before he killed his parents, commits suicide four months after the murders.

Matt, who has lived in a maximum-security unit at Fulton State Hospital for seven years, is being transferred to the hospital’s medium-security unit. Under medication, Matt’s mental state is improved but he still is dogged daily by the knowledge of the damage he inflicted on his family.

The marriage of big brother Mark, a successful businessman whose drinking and obsession with championing the rights of the families of the mentally ill, is a casualty, too — even as Mark tries to forgive his brother.

Then there’s the impact on society because Matt is now being cared for by the state.

You can hear the depth of Mark’s pain and determination when he says at the end of the film, “It takes a lot of meaning out of life when life itself — your own flesh and blood — can take and kill their own. Your own mom and dad. It’s just not right. It’s just not right. And the real aggravating thing about it is there’s so much that can be done to have prevented this and to prevent it for others.” Holliday produced, directed and wrote the script. He also shot much of the documentary along with KSDK film editor Jon King and videographers Chuck LeRoi and Dana Christian. King edited the project. It couldn’t have been shot without the cooperation of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Holliday said.

Saturday, will be a big day for Holliday. In addition to the movie’s debut, he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists at its Excellence Awards ceremony that evening at Washington University’s Simon Hall.

Holliday, 47, won’t be particularly nervous at either affair. A 22-year veteran of local television news and sports, he says he’s used to scrutiny and has developed a thick skin. Still, he has a sense of anticipation.

“I want people to like what I’ve done,” Holliday said. “I’ve poured a lot of myself into this. I’m anxious to see what people think, what the reaction is.” Said Mark McBride in an interview: “This is an incredibly hard week for me. It’s the culmination of things.”

The documentary represents 3 1/2 years of work by Holliday, from studying documentary technique to buying a camera so he could shoot footage to editing the project down from about 35 hours of videotape. He spent about $11,000 out of his own pocket.

For Holliday, the documentary has more than just a good story. It’s a just cause. It’s also a personal triumph. He liked stretching himself. He still wants to interview a family member of the psychiatrist who committed suicide, as well as Mark McBride’s wife. Meanwhile, he had to work through the deaths of his own mother and father two years apart. But he said he would make another documentary – if the right project comes along.

The documentary echoes Wally Lamb’s 1998 best seller “I Know This Much Is True,” which also looked at the complex relationship between a schizophrenic man and his brother.

The film centers on interviews with the McBride brothers and Matt’s mental health providers. There are also crime scene photos. It traces Matt’s descent into a hell of voices that only he could hear. Holliday also gives texture to the lives of the parents, Nancy and James McBride II, who had tried unsuccessfully to get help for their son She was a devoted Cardinals fan; he loved Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

“This was the all-American family,” Holliday said in an interview.

Yet, on the day of the murders, a sinister voice inside Matt’s head compelled him to kill his parents to prevent World War III.

“I was pretty messed up,” Matt says about that day. He was 25 at the time. The documentary describes how Matt, who then lived on the street, broke into his parents’ home and the grisly chaos that followed.

Matt doesn’t remember much about that morning. His psychologist doesn’t push him to remember, either – remembering could do more harm than good to Matt.

Still, he remembers enough.

For many, it would be nearly impossible to forgive a brother who kills their parents. But Mark McBride, now 41, finds forgiveness in his heart. He separates a schizophrenic Matt, now 32, from the chatty, charming Matt he hugs and giggles with in the film.

“You know, I see him walk down the hall and I know how alone he must feel,” Mark says, eyes welling with tears. “‘Cause I feel it, and I know he feels it even worse. He’s my brother. I just want to give him a break.